Eyes Wide Open

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August 29, 2016

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor

B l i n d e r s  O n  T h e  R i g h t

This week our imaginations and creativity are aflame.  We just discovered a new rocky planet, near Proxima b, and it’s close to us; it may be habitable.  NASA is recruiting Earthlings to become the first Martians with inspiring new posters and other artists have come up with the viable concept of a solar train whizzing us around to new worlds.

But first, let’s don our hazmat suits as we delve into the minds of Congress or the Republican candidate for president, and enter the black hole of vanity, greed and blindness.  Those dreams of discovery are obliterated, spaghettified.

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©Copyright 2016 Nate Beeler.

For more than a year, news outlets – particularly those with a scientific bent such as Galactic Sandbox — have been desperately trying to pry from the presidential candidates just where they stand regarding space exploration and the future of NASA.  It’s like pulling donkey teeth.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has given precious little lip service toScreen shot 2016-08-28 at 9.21.46 PM what her position on space exploration is, but we are not very troubled by it.  Her campaign has repeatedly said that NASA and space science is a priority in the party’s plank, and they’re going to stick to that.  NASA has always fared better under Democratic presidents.  And on a personal note, Mrs. Clinton’s original dream in her younger days was to be an astronaut, and she actually applied to NASA for a career.  Luckily for us, they turned her down.

On the other hand, Donald Trump infamously said that America has “to fix the potholes first.”  We agree that there needs to be a massive program to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure, but any bean counter knows that both public works and a robust space program can be accomplished at the same time, itrump and little NASAf only Republicans would quit stonewalling every decent piece of legislation merely to foil “that black guy in the White House.”  It’s a well-known fact that President Obama’s political foes launched their miserable obstructionism the day after he first got into office.

Recently, Aerospace America managed to crowbar this out of Trump: “A lot of what my administration would recommend depends on our economic state. If we are growing with all of our people employed and our military readiness back to acceptable levels, then we can take a look at the timeline for sending more people into space.”

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A top-secret military space plane landed in California after a two-year test flight ended in 2014.

This is disturbing to me on so many levels that it’s physically painful. However, I will try to unpack it. First, “with all of our people employed….” The problem is not a lack of jobs, it’s a lack of good jobs with a living wage. In fact, many of us low-income people have THREE jobs, all paying less than seven bucks an hour. Second, “our military readiness back to acceptable levels.” This guy is so devoid of facts it’s frightful. Congress keeps throwing money at the military, and the Pentagon has repeatedly told them to shove it. The brass doesn’t really pay $3,000 for hammers or $5,000 for toilet seats. They itemize mundane items astronomically to hide the cost of “black” projects.  Yet the Pentagon has said again and again it doesn’t need even that much money for their black ops… they are awash in money.  Republican politicians insist on this idiocy because many of the “white elephant” hardwares are made in their districts, and they are not only pork barreling but also price gouging to boot. Thirdly, “then we can send…more people into space….” Donald, you pathetic moron, it’s not simply about sending people “into space,” it’s about robotic exploration, space telescopes, research and development. Sigh.

With all this in mind, Galactic Sandbox has a new battle cry we’d like to share, and we encourage our readers to shout it frequently this election season:  ♫  Thank You, Republicans! ♫  (Sung to the tune of “Thanks for the Memories”)
–  Kate Woods

K i n g  o f  t h e  W o r l d

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View of Jupiter’s north polar region as taken by Juno on August 27, when the craft was 437,000 miles away.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft whizzed by Jupiter last Saturday at 5:51 a.m. PDT at a speed of 130,000 mph, marking the mission’s closest approach to the gas giant yet at a distance of about 2,600 miles. Last weekend also was the first time Juno’s full suite of scientific instruments were turned on since the craft arrived at the Jovian system on July 4th. “This is our first opportunity to really take a close-up look at the king of our solar system and begin to figure out how he works,” said Scott Bolton,  the mission’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX.

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This dual view of Jupiter was taken on August 23, when the Juno spacecraft was 2.8 million miles from the giant gasbag

While high-resolution JunoCam pix of the Jovian atmosphere and the first portraits of Jupiter’s north and south poles are expected to be released later this week, results from other scientific measurements collected during the flyby won’t be available for some time, says NASA.

“No other spacecraft has ever orbited Jupiter this closely, or over the poles in this fashion,” said Steve Levin, Juno project scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This is our first opportunity and there are bound to be surprises. We need to take our time to make sure our conclusions are correct.”

There are 35 more close encounters with Jupiter scheduled during Juno’s prime mission, which is scheduled to end in February of 2018.

M o r e  T h a n  M e e t s  t h e  E y e

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Will-o’-the-wisp: Shrouded Dragonfly 44 galaxy in Gemini Observatory photo.

Astronomers are all atwitter about the recent discovery of a massive galaxy, which on first glance doesn’t appear to exist. Apparently, the newly dubbed Dragonfly 44 cosmic island consists of 99.99% dark matter, and is the largest galaxy of its kind that has been identified to date. (Dark matter is the still-not-completely-understood “gravitational glue” that is thought to make up almost 85% of the universe’s mass.) An international team of scientists spotted the galaxy last year with the WM Keck Observatory and the Gemini North Telescope in Manuakea, Hawaii, and after clocking the speed of the few stars in the region, concluded that they would be flung apart unless held together by dark matter. “In the Dragonfly galaxy stars move very fast. So there was a huge discrepancy: using Keck Observatory, we found many times more mass indicated by the motions of the stars, than there is mass in the stars themselves,” said Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University. Speaking of such “invisible galaxies,” last year, Dokkum explained, “If the Milky Way is a sea of stars, then these newly discovered galaxies are like wisps of clouds. They are found in a dense, violent region of space filled with dark matter and galaxies whizzing around, so we think they must be cloaked in their own invisible dark matter ‘shields’ that are protecting them from this intergalactic assault.”

P r o x i m a  F a m i l i a r i t a s

Screen shot 2016-08-26 at 11.58.40 PMA tantalizingly-close Earth-sized exoplanet has been discovered orbiting the nearest start system to our own. According to NASA, astronomers peering through the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile, have identified a rocky planet circling in the “habitable zone” around Proxima Centauri, the smallest member of the Alpha Centauri triple star system just 4 light-years away. In fact, scientists speculate the Earth-like orb could be warm enough to allow liquid water to collect on the surface, and are eager to determine whether it holds the ingredient suitable for life.

C o l o s s a l  P i c k

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Mars 2020 rover.

NASA has chosen United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) huge Atlas V rocket to launch the space agency’s next robotic mission to Mars in the summer of 2020, The Mars 2020 rover mission is the next phase  of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term motorized exploration of the red planet, and will be especially equipped to search for key clues to the potential for life. ULA rockets have sent spacecraft to Mars 17 times in the past 50 years.

P a s t  I m p e r f e c t

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What were we thinking? Scientist now believe that the oceans started warming immediately as the industrial revolution shifted into high gear by the mid 19th century.

A new study published last week in the journal Nature is challenging the length of time it is believed humans have affected climate change, reports the Washington Post. Using paleoclimate records from the past 500 years, the authors of the paper show that sustained warming began to occur in both the tropical oceans and the Northern Hemisphere as far back as the 1830s, and indicate that belching industrial-era greenhouse gas emissions were the culprit, even then. “I don’t think it changes what we know about how the climate has warmed during the 20th century, but it definitely adds to the story,” said Nerilie Abram, an expert in paleoclimatology at Australian National University and the new study’s lead author.

R i d e  O n  T h e  S p a c e  T r a i n

Screen shot 2016-08-27 at 12.12.42 AMTired of your metro commute to work? Someday, you may be able to board a “Solar Express” space train that would tote humans, supplies and minerals at lightning speeds between extraterrestrial bodies and space stations in our solar system. In fact, the concept’s creators, who are soliciting help from others to improve the idea, believe one could travel at 1% the speed of light (about 3,000km/s), meaning you could get to Mars in less than two days. Since acceleration and deceleration are the most expensive phases of space travel, the Solar Express will never stop – instead smaller capsules will hop on as it goes whooshing by. Comprised of a series of aligned cylinders at least 50 meters long, the Solar Express would be powered via a combination solar energy, hydrogen propellant supplied by water harvested form comets and small moons, and ion thrusters (see graphic above).

R e d  A l e r t . . . M a r t i a n s  W a n t e d !

NASA needs YOU! The agency just released a series of cool posters aimed at recruiting tomorrow’s new explorers, the 21st Century Marco Polos and Neil Armstrongs who may someday go to Mars or an asteroid near you.The colorful Bauhaus-style artworks are available for purchase, too.







S t e p p i n g  O n  T h e  G a s

fracking memeWhen the Oil and Gas Industry wants to dirty up a place, they like to go where people are so oppressed and poor that they are too busy trying to survive to complain about their kids’ nosebleeds, asthma or other long-term medical problems. So the Four Corners region of New Mexico, where numerous Native American reservations are located, is a perfect place for the filthy energy barons to drill and frack.

Until those snoopy NASA scientists showed up.

Aztec hot spot

Aztec, NM hot spot.

In 2014, when a NASA study pinpointed a colossal methane hot spot over the Four Corners, the industry went defensively ape. The oil PR guys actually said (we are NOT making this up) that the methane pollution was coming from natural sources and landfills. NASA did another study just to appease the polluters, and the results which they released last week were worse: NASA found 250 hot spots, especially in the Aztec, NM area where the oil and gas kings have numerous facilities that belch out the worst kind of global warming gasses: NASA detected methane and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with oil and gas production, including known carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, and xylene.

protest signThe EPA and the Bureau of Land Management say they are cracking down on any new facilities that emit such dangerous greenhouse poisons, but what about the existing ones? Galactic Sandbox agrees with the environmental organization, Earthworks, who confirmed this story with infrared cameras, that fossil fuels need to be where they are least harmful to living things: in the ground.

A c e  I n  T h e  H o l e

Screen shot 2016-08-28 at 9.52.55 PMLast but not least, famed physicist Stephen Hawking may finally get his illusive Nobel prize, thanks to a fellow scientist who was able to create a “fun sized” black hole in his lab. According to Popular Mechanics, Israeli professor Jeff Steinhauer has made a breakthrough challenge to the notion that nothing escapes a black hole’s clutches, which could lead to proving Hawking’s calculations made 42 years ago showing these super gravity wells actually “radiate” particles back into space. In his experiment, Steinhauer bypassed the difficulty of calculating such radiation, and simulated a “black hole” capable of engulfing sound using a laser that shot rubidium atoms in an environment cooled to near absolute zero. According to Steinhauer, since the rubidium atoms were traveling faster than the speed of sound, part of the sound wave was pushed out of the “black hole,” thus contradicting what the scientific community believes happens in real black holes.


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Circle Game

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August 22, 2016

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor

A  C a p i t a l  I d e a ?

Republicans in DC have long carped on NASA for doing too much Earth science (translation: global warming research) instead of allotting more money for deep space exploration.  Last week, the space agency suggested it may soon cave in to their nagging.

Screen shot 2016-08-21 at 7.38.09 PMIn a press conference about Mars last Thursday, NASA’s Deputy Administrator of Space Exploration, Bill Hill, said they want to place the International Space Station into commercial hands within the next ten years.  “Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-earth orbit, we figure that will be in the mid-20s,”  Hill said.  You can’t get more plain that that.

I have ugly visions of “Exxon Mobil” screeching in “bitchin’” colorful decals on the side of the ISS.

Screen shot 2016-08-21 at 7.40.21 PMTo seriously get to Mars — by 2033 as Hill told reporters last week — and on the skinny budget Republicans allot for America’s space endeavors, we can see how NASA would have to sacrifice the International Space Station on the altar of capitalism.  At a cost of $4 billion a year to operate, NASA spends 20 percent of its annual budget on missions to and fro the ISS.  And that’s just the U.S. section!

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SpaceX’s missions to the space station will taxi as many as four crewmembers to low Earth orbit.

But there’s the rub.  The operative word that is getting lost in this new noble gesture is “international.”  The ISS, which took decades to get off the ground after countless revisions that whittled the engineering marvel into a smaller and smaller shadow of its original self, is still a group global effort.  Would NASA merely sell the American portion of the space platform?  That certainly has not been made clear yet.

Since it first opened its docking bay in 2000, the station was supposed to have a shelf life through 2015.  Boeing – the primary contractor – is doing a feasibility study to see if it can last beyond 2028,  twice its life expectancy.  The experiments conducted up there have been invaluable to every genre of science, from studying new cancer therapies to searching for the elusive “particle x.”

There is no doubt that something’s gotta give if we are to get humans to Mars.  Either NASA’s budget should be doubled or America should scrub its collective – and not privately-backed – effort to reach for the stars.  Galactic Sandbox suggests that Congressional Republicans put up or shut up.

– Kate Woods


T a n g l e d  U p  I n  B l u e

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China’s Long March-2D rocket carrying the first quantum satellite takes off in the Gobi Desert on August 16, 2016.

Last week, China boasted the launch of the world’s first “quantum satellite” that according to the state news agency Xinhua is ” designed to establish ultra-secure quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground,” as well as “conduct experiments on the bizarre features of quantum theories, such as entanglement.” In other words, China is claiming that its Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) satellite – addition to transmitting sensitive information via “quantum key encryption” — will literally teleport data from a sun-synchronous orbit 310 miles above Earth.  Now, before your “woo woo” meter flashes “tilt,” take a look at a last week’s Quartz article that explains the science behind this story much more intelligently than we could possibly do in this limited column space.

S t a r  W a r s  R e d u x ?

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The US Air Force’s newly launched eye-in-the-sky sats join the secret unmanned X37B space plane that has already been in orbit for a year.

While you weren’t looking, the US military took homeland security to new heights, and  launched two spy satellites Friday as part of the Air Force’s newly-christened orbital “neighborhood watch” program. According to New York Daily News writer Gersh Kuntzman, the official story as reported by USA Today is that the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program birds will deter US “enemies” from running “hostile operations in space as an extension of the terrestrial battlefield,”  In other words, the latest spooksats will monitor our current spacecraft for possible collisions with ncoming missiles launched by unfriendly nations. You can understand our uneasiness about this latest development despite the Air Force’s insistence that the U.S. is not looking to weaponize space. As Mr Kuntzman notes, the the Air Force is spending about $10 billion on classified space operations  this year —nearly twice the $5.5 billion the entire Pentagon will reportedly spend on cybersecurity acquisitions.

A n d  T h e  H e a t  G o e s  O n

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Sea ice melts off the beach of Barrow, Alaska where NASA’s Operation IceBridge is being conducted this year.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are feverishly adding up the latest temperature readings for July and are finding that this past month was the warmest globally since records started being kept back in 1880. NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch adds that weather data predict continued record temperatures, with this year very likely being “the warmest year on record for the globe.” Of course, this is no freak occurrence, since the past 10 years have seen multiple temperature records being smashed. As the heat continued to rise, Kuwait roasted in 126 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, and droughts in California and the US Southwest worsened, creating explosive tinderbox conditions. In addition, the Arctic continues to warm up twice the rate of the rest of the world, with oceanographers predicting that it won’t be long before the Arctic Ocean is ice-free in the summer (Barf Alert: Cruise ships are now gearing up to plow through the Northwest Passage Sigh.)

S h i n e  T h e  L i g h t

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A new Stanford machine-learning system compares satellite images of nighttime lights indicative of electricity and economic activity with daytime pix of roads, urban areas, bodies of water and farmland to come up with a highly-accurate means of predicting extreme poverty areas around the globe.

Stanford University interdisciplinary researchers have corralled millions of high-resolutions satellite images to come up with a new “poverty mapping” machine -learning system to more accurately identify the  poorest areas of the world. This new model discipline – a subset of the broader field of artificial intelligence – uses both “daytime and nighttime satellite imagery … to make predictions on poverty,” said Stefano Ermon, assistant professor of computer science at Stanford. “The system essentially learned how to solve the problem by comparing those two sets of images,” he added.


R e v v e d  U p

Screen shot 2016-08-21 at 9.54.16 AMNASA rocket scientists were buoyed by last week’s successful test of Space Launch System engine, bringing the agency one step closer to an inaugural blast off of its deep space mega missile in late 2018. The RS-25 engine  — basically an upgrade to the space shuttle era motors used for over three decades — will power NASA’s planned crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

F r e e  F o r  A l l

Top-notch research results are free for the taking as NASA announced this week it knowledgewill no longer charge the public for its library of knowledge. Within the year, the agency plans to release thousands more of its papers, with topics ranging from the toxicity of lunar dust to the make-up of Earth’s early atmosphere. 

Until now, NASA’s research papers were available for a fee (and considering how the agency seems to be selling off its assets, we’re surprised they don’t continue the trend with its acquired discoveries). Of course, matters of national security, defense and patents are still off limits. The move comes three long years after the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directed the agency to make more of its research accessible to the public. So far, there are about 850 papers available now at NASA’s Pubspace.

E x i t  T h r o u g h  T h e  G i f t  S h o p

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Astronaut Kate Rubins puts the final touches on the new Space Station docking port that will be the entry and exit point for a new generation of commercial crew-ferrying spacecraft. Rubins is the 12th woman astronaut to perform a spacewalk.

International Space Station astronauts Kate Rubins and Jeff Williams performed a little home improvement last week and installed a new station docking port that will be used by crew-carrying commercial spacecraft built by Space X and Boeing in the next couple of years. The international docking adapter (IDA) was launched last month atop Space X’s Falcon rocket and delivered to the ISS via the company’s Dragon orbital transport. According to a NASA release,  “the systems and targets for the IDA are much more sophisticated than previous docking systems and include lasers and sensors that allow the station and spacecraft to talk to each other digitally to share distance cues and enable automatic alignment and connection.”


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Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

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August 15, 2016

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor

B o i l i n g  M a d

Evidence of catastrophic global warming has been reported with exponentially rising frequency this summer, but according to America’s Republican presidential candidate, the world is not to worry.

Trump climate mapBIn an interview last week with the Miami Herald, Donald Trump again said he was not “a big believer in man-made climate change.”  One would think that he’d have a better eye doctor considering his “huge wealth,” as his most beloved mansion, Mar-a- Lago (Palm Beach, Florida) – one of many opulent Trump estates – sits on ground zero for rising sea levels.

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Future Davy Jone’s Locker? Trump’s National Doral Resort in Miami.

The candidate did actually acknowledge that sea levels were rising, but that it was part of a natural cycle.  “I don’t believe it’s a devastating impact….”  He attributed sea level rise to “a change in weather patterns, and you’ve had it for many years.”  (Hmm … That’s very deep, but not as much as the Pro Shop will be at Trump’s swanky “Blue Monster” golf course in Miami.)

Continuing , Trump posited, “I would say it goes up, it goes down, and I think it’s very much like this over the years … We’ll see what happens. I mean, we’ll see what happens.”  (No one can say he’s not on top of it!)

Trump also added that he wants local governments to deal with the problem, not the federal government.  Although, he might want to ask how the Miami City Council feels about that bright idea, since they recently had to gut the city budget of $500 million to prepare their metropolis for the onslaught of the impending salty deluge.

Meanwhile, scientists are sounding the warning bell…yet again.

Researchers now say that keeping the planet’s average temperature from rising another Screen shot 2016-08-14 at 5.25.20 PM1.5 degrees C, as agreed upon by 200 nations last December at the Paris Climate Conference, is “impossible, or at the very least, a very very difficult task.” That’s the opinion of Stanford University professor Chris Field, co-chair of the International Panel on Climate Change.  He cited that the Earth already peaked at 1.38 C in February and March, which is far sooner than expected.  Field and other climate scientists are meeting in Geneva this month to figure out how to implement the Paris agreement – that is, if it still can be.

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Marine diatom cells (Pleurosigma), which are an significant group of ocean-living  phytoplankton. Credit: Michael Stringer

Nature World News also reported this week that a plankton die-off in the oceans has accelerated due to acidification, lack of oxygen, and rising sea temperatures.  Acidification is caused by carbon monoxide from the atmosphere mixing into the vast oceans.  The result will be a domino effect that will kill off massive swaths of the marine food chain, this time starting at both ends of sea species since the main diet of whales is the minute plankton.

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Last year in August, Iran experienced a scorching “heat dome” in which the heat index reached an uninhabitable 165 degrees F.

As if the above wasn’t bad enough, United Nations and climate scientists have put out advisories recently that temperatures in the Middle East have broken the records this summer: In July, the city of Basra, Iraq, hit 54 degrees Celsius – that’s 129 degrees Fahrenheit.  The heat in Kuwait and Iraq, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, has actually “startled” observers and alarmed those who are used to high heat.  Stepping outside is like “walking into a fire,” said Zainab Guman, a 26-year-old university student who lives in Basra.  “It’s like everything on your body – your skin, your eyes, your nose – starts to burn,” she said.  The entire country has taken to avoiding all daylight, and the streets are empty until nightfall.  Experts have estimated it will only get worse, making the region from Morocco to Saudi Arabia uninhabitable for humans and most other species, possibly by 2050 – or sooner.

So, even as we face eye-to-eye with these life-eliminating climate conditions, Trump says if he is elected, he will “cancel” the U.S’ commitment in the Paris Climate Accords.  He also reminded us that “We have so many environmental regulations that, you go to other countries, where they don’t have that, it puts us at a tremendous disadvantage,” he said.  He has vowed to dismantle the EPA, calling it a “fraud.”

trump hot air

Yes, we’re standing by this one.

I dunno – maybe Trump is right! With slave labor and no concern for anything living, we can be the ones putting China and Laos to shame – as well as perhaps start a whole new gas mask industry! Of course, we will all be dead from toxic air, the absence of water and what little poisoned, pesticide-laden food is left, but at least we could save face and money — or at least “smart” businessmen like Trump will save a boat-load of dough. Let’s put America back to work!  Let’s make America Great … and Dead … Again!

Now that’s actual sarcasm Mr. Trump – not the irresponsible hyperbole you claimed was “misunderstood” last week when you so unfunnily said that President Obama and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton are the “founders of Isis.”  Global warming is all too real to most of the world right now, and it’s a lethal threat that could make vicious terrorism become a secondary concern.  – Kate Woods

B l o o m  o f  Y o u t h

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The past is prologue? NASA scientists depict a younger, Earth-like Venus.

The same tools used to model climate change on Earth have been employed to paint a dramatically different picture of the planet Venus as it existed just up to 715 million years ago, according to a new NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) study. Instead of the present-day dry and toxic wasteland where surface temperatures can soar as high as 864 degrees F, for a period of about 2 billion years an Ancient Venus may have been so radically different that it could have been ideal for supporting life. Using a computer model that hits the rewind button on the planet’s geophysical history, the GISS researchers suggest that the second planet from the Sun sported a liquid water ocean that was the source of a thick vapor cloud that served as protection from the scorching solar rays and maintained habitable temperatures as low as 50 degrees F.

P e r f e c t  S t o r m

A powerful solar flare in May 1967 caused significant electrical disruptions to Cold WarScreen shot 2016-08-13 at 6.43.00 AM military equipment that brought the world close to a nuclear war, according to a study recently published in Space Weather. The solar storm, one of the most intense in the past century, was so strong that it knocked out all three of the US’s early-warning system radars used to detect incoming Soviet missiles, thus sounding “red alert” alarms and sending Air Force personnel scrambling to ready nuclear-laden aircraft since US officials briefly believed the Soviets were capable of jamming radar, and considered such electronic “hacking” an act of war. “The aircraft did not launch –we’re pretty certain of that,” lead researcher Delores Knipp of the University of Colorado at Boulder told Gizmodo. “Was war imminent? What we know is that decisions were being made on the tens of minutes to hours basis, and that information got to the right place at the right time to prevent a disaster.” According to the recent study, the newly-established Solar Forecasting Center was able to sniff out the real cause of the radar disruptions just before the world was blown to smithereens.

L i k e  O n e  o f  t h e  F a m i l y

Screen shot 2016-08-13 at 8.25.00 AMAfter 100 years of being in lock step with the Earth a small rocky piece of space dirt has officially earned the rank of “quasi-satellite” status. The mini-moon – asteroid “2016 HO3” –  was first spotted on April 27, 2016, by the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii, and is believed to be 120 to 300 feet in size.  “Our calculations indicate 2016 HO3 has been a stable quasi-satellite of Earth for almost a century, and it will continue to follow this pattern as Earth’s companion for centuries to come,”  noted Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

S p a c e  O d d i t y

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Newly-spotted NIku trans Neptunian objects is 160,000 times fainter than the blue gas planet.

A newly-discovered Trans-Neptunian Object is causing scientists to scratch their heads due to its unusual characteristic in which it traveling the opposite direction of other bodies in our solar system.  Dubbed “Niku” (Chinese for rebellious), the minuscule 200 km dwarf planet also orbits in a plane that’s tilted 110 degrees to our solar “disc”  According to a  Huffington Post report, astronomers are speculating how Niku got its askew and retrograde orbit. One theory involves the possibility that Niku was knocked off course by some other, as-of-now unknown object. Discovered via the Pan-STARSS telescope system in Hawaii, Niku appears to be part of cluster of similar objects and icy planetoids with similar unusual orbits.

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Long Shots

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August 8, 2016

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor

T h e  Z e n  o f  P a n d e r i n g

Screen shot 2016-08-07 at 12.31.08 AMReal estate mogul/confidence half-man Donald Trump pulled yet another head-scratching reversal in whatever the hell he is going to do if, God forbid, he becomes President, when he told voters last week in Daytona Beach, Florida, that the nation’s space program was “Third World.”

“Someone just asked me backstage, ‘Mr. Trump, will you get involved in the space program?’” he told the rally-goers.  “Look what’s happened with your employment. Look what’s happened with our whole history of space and leadership. Look what’s going on, folks. We’re like a Third World nation.”

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Trump tells 10-year-old last year that the US needs to fix potholes rather than spend money on space exploration.

Like everything that emanates from Trump’s pretzel-shaped brain, the implication is that he, and he alone, will make NASA “great again,” absurd rhetoric that he hopes Floridian conservatives would lap up. Yet back in November, when a ten-year-old boy asked him his opinion of the space program, Trump alluded that he would rather nuke the world instead of discovering the wonders beyond it.

“You know, in the old days, it was great,” Trump replied. “Right now, we have bigger problems. You understand that? We’ve got to fix our potholes. You know, we don’t exactly have a lot of money.”

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Trump ads hijack NASA accomplishments while the candidate’s space policy lacks the aspiration for anything great or small.

It’s dubious that Trump is even aware of the surge in commercial space endeavors this past decade, such as those accomplished by companies like Space X and Blue Origin, never mind the latest achievements made by NASA and it’s Orion Crew Vehicle and the Space Launch System.  We doubt he is even aware that there is an internationally collaborated space station flying over his orange, day-glow head.

What is extremely disturbing for the future of American space exploration and the decades-long planning for a Mars Mission is what Trump said in a recent interview with Aerospace America: “Our first priority is to restore a strong economic base to this country. Then, we can have a discussion about spending.”

Trump space suit

A petition was started a few months ago on Change.org asking NASA to send Trump into space and leave him there. So far the petition has garnered 69,439 signatures. Click here to join the fun!

Then Trump flipped his position again. In a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session that was conducted during the Democrats’ convention, Trump said, “Honestly I think NASA is wonderful! America has always led the world in space exploration.”

And, again, days later on his Twitter account: “It is very sad to see what @BarackObama has done with NASA. He has gutted the program and made us dependent on the Russians.”

What The Flying Spaghetti Monster??

The editorial staff of Galactic Sandbox believes the Republican candidate is mentally unstable and exhibits a chasm of ignorance regarding anything scientific, technological or inventive.  Remember: this is the maroon who sincerely believes (at the moment) that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese in order to undermine American industrialism.  We know our readers are with us.  We only ask that you educate your family and friends about the stakes involved in this insanely weird election cycle. Keep hope alive! — Kate Woods



U n r e p r e s s e d  D e s t i n y

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Kid in a candy store? MoonEx CEO Bob Richards.

In a landmark decision last week, the US government for the first time approved a commercial firm to travel beyond Earth’s orbit and land on the Moon. Florida-based Moon Express, Inc. (MoonEx) announced last week that it’s been given the federal interagency green light to conduct its maiden robotic lunar mission in 2017 that will carry experiments designed to explore the nature of relativity and quantum mechanics. While MoonEx understandably trumpeted the decision as a giant step toward humanity’s permanent presence in the cosmos, comments by the company’s founders sound more like the words of greedy children drooling over a manifest destiny land grab. “We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent … seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity,” gushed MoonEx co-founder and CEO Bob Richards. MoonEx co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain echoed his cohort’s sentiments saying that in the immediate future they “envision bringing precious resources, metals, and Moon rocks back to Earth.”

MoonEx is also hoping to use its 2017 mission to cash in on a $20 million bounty offered Screen shot 2016-08-06 at 9.49.15 AMby Google as part of the Lunar XPRIZE competition, in which commercial entities must land on the Moon, blast off again, and then drop anchor more than 1,500 feet away and beam high-definition video images back to Earth.


I n  Y o u r  D r e a m s

Screen shot 2016-08-07 at 9.59.13 PMKim Jong-un on the Moon? You heard right! Saber rattling North Korea has announced it’s gearing up to “plant the flag” of their fascist country on the Moon (robotically) within a decade. And they don’t give a fig about the U.S.’ stinking sanctions.

“Even though the US and its allies try to block our space development, our aerospace scientists will conquer space,” said Hyon Kwang-il, director of the scientific research department of North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration.

Kim Jung in puke suit!

North Korea “lunar astronaut” Kim Jung.

In the last several years, North Korea has aimed “nuclear” warhead rockets southeast toward South Korea and sort of at the United States, but the launches have had the impacts of bottle rockets. Some months ago they claimed to have blasted off their first “hydrogen bomb” – underground – which turned out to be a big fat lie. Nonetheless, astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, an expert on international sats and launches, said their “declaration” isn’t all that far-fetched.

“Given their low flight rate of one [space] mission every few years, I think it is hard to see them succeeding in this in the next five years, but possible to see them attempting it,” he added.


M i x e d  B a g

Screen shot 2016-08-06 at 6.28.40 PMA small white bag sold for $995 at a government auction in early 2015 has now become the center of a legal dispute that’s literally out of this world. According to the Washington Posta sack used for the first samples of lunar material on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 was mistakenly sold to a Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Illinois who sent the item to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for authentication, only to have it confiscated after the space agency discovered the bag was misidentified and sold without permission. Carlson promptly sued NASA to return the bag, and now the US Attorney’s office, which is calling the Moon

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Space Case -Max Ary was convicted of selling space museum items loaned to the center by NASA.

dust-embedded bag ““a rare artifact, if not a national treasure,” asked a federal judge last week to rescind the bag’s sale. Apparently, the mix up is the latest twist in the sordid tale of Max Ary, the founder and longtime director of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, who was convicted in November 2005 for stealing and selling space artifacts and memorabilia. The lunar bag was discovered in 2003 n Ary’s garage, and was misplaced when it was ID’d the same as an identical bag from the Apollo 17 mission that was sold by Ary for $24,150 and also recovered during the investigation.

S t a r  P o w e r

The night of August 11-12 is the peak time of this year’s Perseid Meteor shower – one of Screen shot 2016-08-07 at 12.03.06 PMmore impressive shooting star shows of the year. While the Perseids are one of the major perennial meteor displays, this year’s celestial splash is being touted as a “spectacular show” by the media echo chamber after NASA announced that forecasters are expecting double the rates with up to 200 meteors per hour (approximately 3 per minute) due to the planet Jupiter pulling comet Tuttle debris closer to Earth than normal.  However, before you don the hardhats, don’t be surprised if you’re somewhat disappointed as the result of media over-hype:  depending on the actual time of the peak, you are most likely going to stare at the sky for 10-15 minutes before seeing any signs from the heavens; also, be advised that the waxing Moon will limit viewing until well after midnight on the 12th.

M e l t  D o w n

greenland-ice-sheet-map[1]A platoon of NASA scientists are working under near-intolerable environmental conditions in Greenland, mapping the melt-rate of the continent and figuring how the catastrophe is contributing to climate change. The icesheet covers 80 percent of the country and the cold water rushing into the Atlantic from Greenland alone will make sea levels rise 24 feet. They have so far deduced that the southeastern and northwestern zones are already thawed. Galactic Sandbox wishes to congratulate every global warming denying Republican in Congress for this preventable world disaster of biblical proportions.

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Race Against Time

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August 1, 2016

Agnett Bonwit, Galactic Sandbox Managing Editor

H i g h  W i r e  A c t

Screen shot 2016-07-31 at 8.36.17 AMNASA policy wonks got together last week in Cleveland to deliver a series of public reports about the space agency, specifically its Human Exploration and Operations, which is running out of time to provide a permanent “Made in the USA” way to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) before the end of 2018. Ever since the US mothballed the space shuttle program in 2011, American astronauts have been ferried to low Earth orbit via Soyez craft as part of a one-off deal with the Russians that expires December 31, 2018. Fortunately .NASA has been feverishly working with commercial firms Space X and Boeing  that reportedly will be ready to conduct flights of next-generation crewed space taxis by October 2017 and May 2018 respectively. However, given the usual development hiccups that occur in such projects, there is no guarantee that these dates could be pushed back, thus jeopardizing the status of future ISS missions. On the bright side however, NASA announced Friday that it has ordered a second SpaceX crew mission to the ISS.  SpaceX’s successful full-duration test of a reused Falcon 9 first stage in a major step towards maintaining a fleet of fully-recycled commercial rockets.

While NASA scientists are biting their nails over low-Earth orbit capabilities, the space agency’s human flight programs continue to look beyond our planet with the development of a heavy duty Space Launch System. During last week’s Advisory Council meeting in Cleveland,  NASA deputy associate administrator for programs provided an overview of NASA’s deal with Space X in which the agency will support that firm’s unmanned Red Dragon Mars lander mission in May 2018. While NASA estimates that Space X is spending $300 million on its Red Dragon development, the space agency expects to provide $32 million over four years in Mars mission technical support for Elon Musk’s commercial space firm.

C a r b o n  C o p y

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Newly-developed “photosynthetic” cell transforms atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into burnable hydrogen/carbon monoxide “syngas.”

In what could result in a commercial technology that may render fossil fuels obsolete, engineers at the University of Chicago have developed a new type of solar cell that can convert carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuel using the power of the sun. According to Amin Salehi-Khojin, “Instead of producing energy in an unsustainable one-way route form fossil fuels to greenhouse, we can now reverse the process and recycle atmospheric carbon into fuel using sunlight.” Unlike the traditional photovoltaic cell that can transform sunlight into electric energy which is then stored in batteries, Salehi-Khojin’s team has developed a “photosynthetic” cell that can manufacture a mixture of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide that can be burned directly or converted into other forms of fuel, like diesel.

P r o p h e t  o f  L o o n

Screen shot 2016-07-31 at 3.59.10 PMJust when you thought Donald Trump had a monopoly on doomsday predictions, a viral video posted through End Time Prophecies last month predicted a colorful end-of-the-world scenario that was set to occur (and as far as we can tell failed to happen) on July 29th. In case you overslept and missed the end times, according to the 17-minute barn burner Youtube clip (and automatic Galactic Sandbox 2016 Tin Foil Hatter of the Year nominee), the Earth’s magnetic poles were supposed to flip, causing the planet to split open and “stagger like a drunk .. collapse, and never rise again.”  Apparently the video was produced by Armageddon News, which claimed that someone else had re-uploaded their video and slapped a July 29 date to it. “Nothing is going to happen on July 29th. We have never claimed such a thing , this date is just another false date being promoted online,” explained Armageddon’s John Preacher. For the record, regardless of a specific date, Preacher’s video does predict Jesus will return the same day the Earth’s magnetic poles reverse, so just in case we’re keeping our supply of tin foil hats well stocked.

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